Ship detained in Australia after 40 containers go overboard

APL England in the port of Brisbane after it lost 40 containers off the coast of Sydney. Credit: Stringer/REUTERS

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) detained Singapore-flagged APL England in Brisbane on 28 May after 40 containers went overboard during an engine failure in heavy seas on 24 May.

APL England docked in the port of Brisbane on 26 May, leaving a trial of litter along 200 km of coastline behind it. Debris strewn across Australia’s popular beaches, including packages of medical face masks.

Sydney’s Randwick mayor Danny Said closed four beaches, including Coogee, Clovelly, Malabar, and Maroubra. Ironically, the beaches had only recently been reopened after a month-long lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Debris from a containership has washed up on many of our beaches,” commented Said. “Our crew are out now, cleaning up. There may be submerged items in the water, so please don’t swim. Don’t pick up rubbish, let us know about it, it may not be safe for you.”

Debris washed up on Bondi Beach and a container was found on a beach south of Newcastle, Australia. An AMSA inspector boarded the vessel at anchor in Brisbane on 26 May, uncovering inadequate cargo lashing and heavily corroded securing points for containers on deck.

“These inspection findings are a clear breach of requirements under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea,” said Allan Schwartz, general manager of AMSA.

The vessel is being detained in port until shipowner American President Lines (APL) and the operator rectify the deficiencies. AMSA also announced it expects APL and its insurer to take full responsibility for the cleanup.

Drift modelling and an air search for the semi-submerged containers causing possible navigational hazards is under way.

APL England suffered a temporary loss of propulsion, lurched, and rolled heavily during rough seas about 73 km southeast of Sydney on 24 May. The vessel departed from Ningbo, China, heading to Melbourne, Australia. While the engine was restarted within minutes, some container stacks collapsed.  The master reported 40 containers went overboard, 74 were damaged, and 6 were protruding from starboard side, 3 from portside.

AMSA investigations are ongoing and the incident is also subject to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation.

Shipping containers have washed up as far north as the New South Wales Central Coast, where AMSA had only completed a cleanup operation last month of 63 containers that lost overboard off YM Efficiency in 2018.

It is the second overboard cargo incident involving APL England in recent years. The vessel lost 37 containers in the Great Australian Bight in 2016.